Turkey and Israel indicated today that they’re ready to restore diplomatic relations suspended six years ago after a deadly clash at sea between Israeli commandos and pro-Palestinian Turkish activists.
The deal was still being wrapped up by negotiators while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s traveled to Rome to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a senior Israel official said on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential talks. Netanyahu will outline terms of the agreement at a noon press conference Monday, according to his office. Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is scheduled to speak at the same time in Ankara, state-run Anadolu Agency reported, without saying how it got the information.
The accord would pave the way for multibillion-dollar natural gas contracts as Israel seeks to export fuel from its largest field and Turkey looks to reduce its reliance on Russian fuel. Israeli gas shares pared losses Sunday on news of an imminent deal, which is to be followed by the return of ambassadors and the opening of energy talks. The Israeli shekel and Turkish markets don’t trade on Sunday.
Years of on-again, off-again rapprochement talks received new impetus after the Turkish military downed a Russian combat plane in November, provoking Russian economic sanctions that highlighted Turkey’s vulnerability to Moscow’s energy policies.
As part of the reconciliation agreement, Israel will put $20 million into a fund established to compensate for the deaths of 10 Turkish citizens killed in Israel’s 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship that tried to breach the Israeli blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. The formal signing will probably take place on Tuesday, the official said.
Turkey will be allowed to transfer materials to build housing, a hospital, a power station and a desalination facility in Gaza, the official said. Turkey abandoned a demand that Israel lift the naval embargo, which it says is meant to block arms shipments.
Money for the families of those killed, which Israel agreed to pay without accepting responsibility for their deaths, won’t be paid until Turkey passes legislation indemnifying Israeli soldiers and officials against prosecution for the raid, the Israeli official said. As part of the agreement, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will pledge in a letter to help return bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war, held by Hamas, according to the official.
Turkey was once Israel’s closest Muslim ally, their partnership based on strong military and economic ties. Relations began to fray after Erdogan took power in Turkey in 2003 at the head of an Islamic-oriented government and drew nearer to Iran and Hamas, which oppose the existence of a Jewish state.
The Turkish leader’s heated criticism of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, especially the Gaza incursion of 2008, created serious tensions. Erdogan stomped off a stage he shared with Israel’s then-President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Following the naval raid, which Israel says turned deadly after commandos encountered violent resistance, Turkey severed diplomatic ties and put four former Israeli military officers on trial in absentia for the killings.
The countries appeared to be on the verge of resuming full diplomatic relations in 2013 after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the flotilla incident at the urging of U.S. President Barack Obama. Talks stalled over Turkey’s compensation demands and insistence that the Gaza blockade be lifted, and Israel’s demand that Turkey not go after its soldiers in court. Turkey’s clash with Russia turned the tide, and negotiations between the sides heated up shortly after.
(c) 2016, Bloomberg · Jonathan Ferziger, David Wainer